Regence BlueShield, No Longer Able to Screen Out Sick Kids, Stops Issuing Child-Only Policies

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Last Thursday, the nation's new health care reform act began requiring insurance companies to stop screening kids for illness before deciding who and what to cover. Now, if insurers enroll children, they are simply obligated to cover all conditions, preexisting or not. Several of the state's insurance companies took the new rule in stride. But Regence BlueShield, which issues more policies to individuals and families than any other company in the state, decided that if it couldn't screen kids, it simply wouldn't enroll them--unless they were part of family plans.

Regence president Jonathan Hensley announced the news to state Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler in a phone call last night. The decision affects children younger than 19.

Kreidler pronounced himself "appalled," saying the company had "just cut off vital coverage for working families." Stephanie Marquis, a spokesperson for his office, elaborates that many people who buy children-only plans get health coverage themselves through work. But their employers--often small businesses--don't offer policies for dependants, even if employees are willing to pay the cost of premiums.

Regence currently has 2,500 children enrolled on their own, and they will get to keep their plans.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment by Seattle Weekly, except to say, in a statement, that "our experience tells us that the best way to provide coverage [for children] is through family policies."

Yet even if parents are trying to cover their children through family policies, Regence is taking further steps to limit the number of kids it insures. Parents, who still have to take a health screen before signing up, can enroll any time. But they can only add their children between November 1 and December 15.

In this, however, Regence is not alone. Kreidler last week said he would allow an enrollment window for kids so that insurance companies wouldn't be flooded with junior applicants throughout the year. According to Marquis, all of the state's insurance companies intend to take advantage of the opportunity.

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